Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with Venezuelan state television TeleSUR in Damascus, in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA on September 26, 2013. REUTERS/SANA/Handout via Reuters SANA/Reuters
The inspectors responsible for tracking down Syria's chemical arms stockpile and verifying its destruction plan to start work in Syria by Tuesday. They will face their tightest deadlines ever and work right in the heart of a war zone, according to a draft decision obtained Friday by The Associated Press.
The decision is the key to any UN resolution on Syria's chemical weapons program.
The five permanent members of the deeply divided UN Security Council reached agreement Thursday on a resolution to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons. A vote depends on how soon the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is to meet Friday evening at its headquarters in The Hague, can adopt its plan for securing and destroying Syria's stockpile.
The draft agreed upon by Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain includes two legally binding demands — that Syria abandons its chemical stockpile and allows unfettered access to the chemical weapons experts.
If Syria fails to comply, the draft says the Security Council would need to adopt a second resolution to impose possible military and other actions on Damascus.
Rare unity between U.S., Russia
Nonetheless, after 2½ years of paralysis, the agreement represents a breakthrough for the Security Council and rare unity between Russia, which supports Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government, and the United States, which backs the opposition.
The proposal to be discussed Friday by the OPCW would allow inspectors into any site suspected of chemical weapons involvement even if Syria's government did not identify the location. That gives the inspectors unusually broad authority.
The draft calls for the organization's secretariat to start inspections "as soon as possible and no later than" Tuesday and it lays out the target of destroying all of Syria's chemical weapons and equipment by the first half of 2014.
- Why the taboo on chemical weapons?
In an indication of the size of the task ahead, the organization also appealed for donations to fund the disarmament, saying it will have to hire new weapons inspectors and chemical experts.
Once the plan is approved, it gives Damascus a week to give detailed information on its arsenal, including the name and quantity of all chemicals in its stockpile; the type of and quantity of munitions that can be used to fire chemical weapons and the location of weapons, storage facilities and production facilities. The destruction of all chemical weapons production and mixing equipment has to be completed no later than Nov. 1.
The decision calls on Syria to "cooperate fully with all aspects of the implementation of this decision" and let the inspectors examine any location they choose.
The diplomatic push to find some agreement on Syria was triggered by an Aug. 21 poison gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians in a Damascus suburb and U.S. President Barack Obama's subsequent threat to use military force.
When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Assad could avert U.S. military action by turning over "every single bit of his chemical weapons" to international control within a week, Russia quickly agreed.
Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov signed an agreement in Geneva on Sept. 13 to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control for later destruction. Assad's government accepted the deal and quickly signed up to Chemical Weapons Convention that is policed by the Hague-based OPCW.
Meanwhile, a group of international war crimes experts is calling for the creation of a war crimes court in Damascus to try top-ranking Syrian politicians and soldiers when the country's civil war ends.
The war that began in March 2011 has so far claimed more than 100,000 lives in Syria and forced hundreds of thousands to flee the violence, according to the UN.
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